Terry Rozier trade shows Miami Heat have accepted their Eastern Conference reality


Terry Rozier won’t be the biggest name to change teams before the NBA’s trade deadline on Feb. 8.

He might not even be the biggest name moved by the Charlotte Hornets.

But by acquiring the high-scoring combo guard on Tuesday for Kyle Lowry and a lottery-protected 2027 first-round pick, the Miami Heat sent a clear message about how they view their current team’s present and future — and how it needed to change.

On the surface, this trade isn’t all that captivating from Miami’s perspective. The Heat got a clear upgrade by turning Lowry into Rozier, and all they had to give up to make it happen was a lottery-protected pick in the future. That’s a no-brainer.

Lowry, who was moved to the bench in his last two games with Miami, has been declining. The 37-year-old is averaging just 8.2 points and four assists this season and hasn’t scored more than 10 points in a game since Christmas. With Rozier, the Heat add a bona fide bucket-getter who’s averaging a career-high 23.2 points this season. He provides a specific skill set Miami needs — 3-point shooting, secondary ballhandling and reliable shot making at the end of games.

While Rozier’s numbers in recent years have come in low-stakes games on terrible Hornets teams, he’s carried the offensive burden put on his plate reasonably well. His shooting splits this season (46 percent from the field, 36 percent from 3, 85 percent from the free-throw line) are pretty good for a high-volume scorer of his size (6-foot-1, 190 pounds). He’s also been rock solid in end-of-game situations and isn’t scared of trading punches with some of the top guys in the league late in the fourth quarter.

Even though it’s been almost five years since Rozier’s last appearance in the postseason, he had some huge moments on the big stage in his first four seasons with the Boston Celtics. Based on what we’ve seen, he doesn’t seem like the type to shrink under the bright lights.

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How does the Terry Rozier trade impact the top of the East?

The fascinating part is the Heat making the decision to go through with this trade two weeks before the deadline rather than waiting. At its base level, it was Miami confessing its current dynamic wasn’t good enough. That’s a significant admission for a franchise that so often gets by through sheer will and know-how in the biggest moments against supposedly more talented teams.

Maybe the Heat still aren’t good enough. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers remain clearly above them in the Eastern Conference, and the same is probably true of Milwaukee despite its decision to fire coach Adrian Griffin. There may be some complications as coach Erik Spoelstra tries to integrate Rozier on both ends of the court. Still, a five-man group containing Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Rozier and rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. has enough to at least go to battle with just about any group the East has to offer. Perhaps that’s all the Heat need to land in the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth time in the last five years.

There’s one clear reason the Heat needed to pull off a trade like this sooner rather than later to even give themselves a chance: Their offense is floundering miserably. They’re ranked 28th in points scored per 100 possessions since the start of January and have been held to fewer than 100 points in four of their last six games entering Wednesday. Nearly every important player on the roster has missed time at some point during the season. But Butler, Herro and Adebayo have all been on the floor lately, and even then, the team’s offensive firepower hasn’t been as good as it needs to be considering its aspirations of another deep playoff run.

And let’s be honest: Rozier isn’t just another player who’ll fill in off the bench and play 15-20 minutes per game. He should eventually step into a starting role next to Butler and Herro and becomes a core piece of this team’s identity. If you weren’t watching Charlotte regularly — which most people weren’t — it’s easy to overlook Rozier’s performance. He will make a difference. Though there may have been other options available if Miami had waited until closer to the Feb. 8 deadline, it clearly realized the need to make a move now rather than leave the door open for someone else to swoop in for Rozier.

Along with that realization, the Heat revealed one other big-picture truth the rest of the league is beginning to accept: Elite scoring is the only path to winning a title. Offense league-wide has gone up to another level this season. Last season’s No. 1 offense, the Sacramento Kings, ended the year scoring 118.6 points per 100 possessions, the highest offensive rating in league history. That same mark would rank eighth this season. Anything less than a great offense won’t be good enough.

In making the Rozier trade now, Miami understands the reality that if it can’t score at an elite level, beating the elite teams is almost impossible. While the Heat did go on a hot streak during their run to the NBA Finals last season, shooting 39 percent on 3s through the first three rounds. they eventually went cold in their Finals defeat to Denver and no longer have key contributors to that run such as Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. Four of the top-10 offenses this season are East teams higher than Miami in the standings, along with Indiana, which sits a half game behind the Heat.

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Heat-Hornets trade grades: Can Terry Rozier give Miami a needed scoring boost?

Finally, while the Heat have always leaned into a win-now approach, this trade also comes with a future cost.

By moving Lowry, the Heat shipped out his expiring $29.6 million salary, which will be a valuable asset for teams looking to create cap space in the summer. In return, Miami tacked on an additional $51.5 million to its books, with Rozier having two more years left on his deal. (His 2025-26 salary is for $26.6 million, with $24.9 million guaranteed. It becomes fully guaranteed if the Heat make the second round of the playoffs and Rozier plays 70 games this season or next, according to Spotrac.) Unless another drastic move comes in the near future, Butler, Adebayo, Herro and Rozier will all be on the books with Miami next season for north of $24 million per season. In Butler’s case, he’s due $48.8 million in 2024-25.

Though Rozier improves the present-day Heat, adding the remaining years of his contract to the books makes it much more of an uphill battle for the Heat to move the right salaries around and acquire the superstar talent they’ve been chasing for years. It’s not impossible: By only giving Charlotte one first-round pick, the Heat maintain some level of flexibility in case another big name hits the market. But the task becomes harder. Also, if the Heat ultimately decide to move Rozier down the road, it’s hard to see them bringing back a comparable first-round pick to the one they gave Charlotte.

Then again, it’s increasingly unlikely a player of that magnitude gets moved at all. Some may say that acquiring Rozier prevents Miami from jumping in on potential Donovan Mitchell talks. But Mitchell plays on a Cavaliers team with a better record than Miami despite its own onslaught of injuries, so he probably isn’t going anywhere. Maybe Miami can get an inside line on another star in the future, like Mikal Bridges, Paul George or any number of theoretical possibilities, but each of those names is more unlikely than the one before.

Given recent failed pursuits of Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant, among others, getting Rozier in the building relieves some of the Heat’s anxiety about the future. Rozier certainly isn’t on that level, but he can provide some of the scoring Miami has been desperately seeking.

In the end, this is the type of trade that shows the Heat aren’t stuck on what’s worked in the past and can assess themselves clearly without rose-colored glasses. This team needed to get better right away, and by acquiring Rozier, it did that.

How will this move affect the future? Well, the Heat will worry about that when they get there.


(Top photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)





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